Monday, 30 March 2020

A Week of Wonderful Wildlife While under Lockdown

The Safari like a lot of folk has been mostly confined to barracks this week.We have been able to get out on Patch 1 for a short walk with the dog every morning but so far haven't taken the camera just the phone for any pics. We've seen a nice variety of wildlife like a small flock flock of migrating Jackdaws, a the female of a pair of Sparrowhawks narrowly missing catching a Wood Pigeon, a kettle of four soaring Buzzards, which is the same number as seen in total at the nearby Marton Mere NR between 1950 and 1991 - how much more common are they now persecution has almost stopped - and a Blackbird which looks to be nesting in the big Gorse bush in the middle of the field that is now smothered in bright yellow flowers - it's such a shame that thsi field will probably be built on before the end of the year. 
So far we've only heard singles of Chiffchaff and Blackcap but we're sure we'll clap eyes on both of them before too long.
For vast majority of the time we've been poking around in the garden, taking snaps of the regular garden visitors doing their usual thing.
Collared Dove
Great Tit
Blue Tit
One regular visitor was seen doing something most unusual. Our resident female Blackbird was quite often seen perched in the Crab Apple tree pecking chunks off the suet block hung from one of its lower branches. On odd occasions it was able to perch on the feeder, this was seen when the suet block begin to get smaller and smaller. What we didn't expect was it to cling to the sunflower heart feeder once the suet block had been finished. In all our five decades of birding, feeding the birds in a variety of gardens and watching bird feeders in 101 locations throughout the land we've never seen this behaviour from a Blackbird before. We were lucky to get a pic as it's quite shy and flies away at the slightest hint of movement from either indoors or out. But it has been back to repeat the performance on at least one occasion.
Our unique female Blackbird
Has anyone else seen a Blackbird (or any other of the typical thrushes) do this?
We've had some half decent sunshine and that has brought a few invertebrates out, mostly queen bumblebees - we've had a Tree Bee and a few Buff Tailed Bumblebees and a queen Common Wasp. A large 'colony' of the solitary Buffish Mining Bees (at least that's what we think they are) is on the street corner a few doors down where they burrow between the stones in a revetment banking and butterflies have so far been only represented by Peacocks.
The moth trap has been on all week but so far only one night has produced any moths and then just these two, a Common Quaker, the pale one, and a Hebrew Character (this is an old pic)
The only other news we have spotted an absolutely butchered Holly bush in the park in Patch 2 and to quote a senior arboriculturalist friend "Sack them - Pr*ck with saw alert!" or if it was done by volunteers some serious training is required. But the big question is why on earth do you need to chop a Holly bush in half in the first place. But then there's been some serious devastation to trees and shrubs in the park since we last visited at the beginning of the winter with some good trees having disappeared reduced to a pile of woodchip but again for reasons which seem inexplicable to us like an old gnarly Hawthorn and a standard Cotoneaster waterii that was full of berries among others.
Some seem to have been taken out to open up the view to the huge pylons that carry the electricity cables across the Wyre and beyond to the huge organised wildlife crime scene that is the Forest of Bowland hills. Whatever the reasons it looks like they're trying to purge any and all wildlife from the park. We're just a bit gutted...and the little pond has been cleared so the Moorhens have vanished but the Typha will grow back so they will probably return in a year or two if the clear out doesn't become an annual thing, it is full of Frog spawn though, acres of the stuff and we're hopeful there'll be a Smooth Newt or two still lurking in there too.
Word on the street is that the Roe Deer is still in the vicinity, one of our dog walking friends reporting it second hand as being seen on the golf course across the road and another saying he disturbed it in the park at 05.00 taking his dogs out before going to work a few days wold be great to get a pic of this Roe Deer only a few hundred yards from our front door.

Where to next? For the coming week the weather has turned wintry cold again but we'll keep you posted with what we find on our early morning walk and any offerings from the garden. 

In the meantime remember - Keep your distance, stay safe and don't forget there's loads of fantastic wildlife to enjoy and learn about right outside your door or through your window.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Waiting for the Wheatears

The Safari hopes everyone is well in these trying times. We've been eagerly awaiting the first of the spring arrivals walking the cliffs watching  every little flit most of which were Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails as usual. We've also kept an eye out to sea too - the mild weather has made for flat calm seas and obviously we were looking out for some blubber, either a Grey Seal or a Harbour Porpoise. Unfortunately neither bothered to put in an appearance for us. Some seabirds have but only distantly like this pair of Eiders about a mile out. But hey-ho they count towards our 1 mile from Base Camp challenge in that we were within the mile even if the birds weren't.
A drake Common Scoter was much more obliging coming in from way way out before turning North a few hundred yards offshore
Somewhere between the two was a flock of Shelducks.
Out on the beach we found the eggcase of a Lesser Spotted Catshark that still had the embryo inside. After a request for adjudication we were allowed to add it to our Vertebrate Photo Challenge, #132.
We were hoping to find some other fish like Sand Gobies and Blennies but cold only find a few Blennies and they hid far too quickly for us to get a pic.
Meanwhile what about the Wheatears? Well we predicted we'd get on on the 15th looking at the weather charts. Well we didn't but they were seen south of the Ribble that day but obviously stopped short by 20 odd miles. They didn't turn up in the Fylde until the 17th and that was somewhat annoyingly to the north of us. We didn't get or first one until 23rd, a couple of days later than our average first sighting for the last 10 years, when three showed up together along Chat Alley. They were very flighty quickly moving north along the cliffs taking some effort to keep up with them.
Vertbrate Challenge #134, 1 mile Challenge #26
On the way back we passed a couple of anglers one of whom was into a fish so we waited to see what she had caught - a nice sized Dab came over the seawall. It was quickly unhooked and returned to the sea. And it counts as it was only temporarily captive and returned to the wild, #135
And after that came the Lock-Down. Thankfully the fields at the Rock Gardens haven't been built on yet (a real travesty given how biodiverse they are) and are slowly drying out after being a total quagmire for months, which is why we've been avoiding them with the mutt who is a total mud-mop, so we do have somewhere to wlak to and explore the wildlife in these 'interesting times' but migration is happening Spring is sprunging and anything can happen - watch this space.

Stay safe folks, keep your distance and above all look outside and enjoy the wildlife all around you - the birdsong is so much easier to appreciate without the abominable traffic noise and the sky-scape is much better without all the con-trails from the planes so there are some silver linings even if at times it might not feel like it. 

Where to next? We'll be regaling you with tales from Base Camp and beyond...well up to a short distance away.

In the meantime let us know what you've been seeing in your very much restricted outback.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Vanity, Vertebrates and a Virus

The Safari has been quite busy with wildlife and other stuff since Christmas, mostly other stuff including another operation on my already butchered hand at the end of January which curtailed safariing for most of February but is now mostly fully recovered. 
A couple of days after the stitches came out - 14 of them
With good news from the Sand Lizard project we've been working on for the best part of a decade we decided to celebrate in hip n trendy style and get ourselves a congratulatory tattoo.
In wildlife news we've been continuing or Photo Year List Challenge with Monika and the gang. This year it's open to all vertebrates and so far we've managed 132 species. This Lesser Spotted Catshark eggcase we found the other day was accepted as a 'Yes it counts' by all in the group to become our 132nd species.
No doubt you're all aware there's a bit of a health issue going round at the moment - seems akin to the Black Death of the Middle Ages - so although not entirely put on hold the Vertebrate Challenge has been replaced by a 2 Week Photo Bird Blitz taking us up to the end of the month. One simple rule - All species must be photographed within a mile of home - a good excuse to get out with the camera, get some excersise see some wildlife and maintain the all important Social Isolation. This Sparrowhawk was soaring over Base Camp yesterday.
2WBB #15
Deadly disease or not the mutt still needs a walk and Chat Alley and the beach are within our mile radius. Neither a bird nor other vertebrate we found these odd cocoons made of sand stuck to the sea defences a couple of days ago. Wonder what they'll turn into, Anyone any ideas.
This morning there was a brisk cool south easterly blowing and a few birds were about especially Meadow Pipits there were a few grounded, one doing its parachuting display flight and most going over more or less due north.
One of the local Pied Wagtails doesn't like the pipits landing on his  patch and chases them off calling noisily as he does. Great to watch the twisting and turning of the chase as the pipit tries to make an escape.
2WBB #16
We named Chat Alley as it turns up chats like Wheatears in reasonable numbers each spring and autumn and occasionally Stonechats too. So far this year we've not come across a Wheatear and today was no exception and also the mean date we first see one along here. However there were a couple of Stonechats, a species we've not recorded along the cliffs for at least a couple of years so we were very pleased to see them
2WBB #17
On closer inspection of the photos when we got back to Base Camp what we thought were two individuals now looks like the same one moving northwards along the cliffs.
The return journey gave us yet more Meadow Pipits.
And finally we stopped off at the Go-Kart track wader roost and found the Purple Sandpiper still present as it had been there yesterday too - the first time we'd looked for it in a while with all the rough weather probably meaning the birds had had to roost elsewhere.
Well that's it for now. We'll try to be more regular in our posts now forced to spend much more time at home.  

Where to next? More of the mile from Base Camp we suppose
In the meantime lets us know who's reappeared in your outback

And don't forget the natural world is a great escape from the problems of today's issues and there's always something to see and new to learn right outside your door or even through your window if you can't get/aren't allowed out.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Sunsets and a starling or two

The Safari has had a couple of visits to the North Pier Starling roost to see if there was any murmuraing happening.
The first evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset and as the Starlings flew in we did our best to estimate the flock size and kept a tally in our head - we ended up with a very rough 'count' of 18,750.
As you can see there were plenty of birds and they did quite  a lot of flying around but didn't throw so many shapes as to be a 'proper' murmuration.

The sunset wasn't quite so vivid for our visit the following evening but shaped up quite nicely for a few minutes. The Starlings put on a better performance too, bunching up quite nicely at times.
Annoyingly the best of the shapes were thrown when the flock was against the dark clouds
Once the light had gone we walked back to the car but looking back we saw more birds arriving and making better shapes. The plan in future might be to watch more ditantly from the prom to the north to see if that gives a better vantaage point from which to watch the swirling flock. We  tried that this evening but all the small arriving flocks did was to dive straight under the pier deck on to their roosting ledges. Maybe the strong wind made them disinclined to murmurate.

In other news the bird feeders at Base Camp have been quite and unusually the most frequent visitor has been a Dunnock. It's on odd one as it thinks it's a Blue Tit or maybe a Greenfinch. It's not often they use hanging feeders and even then it's by far more likely they'll use an open port feeder than a mesh one but ours doesn't seem to like the suet pellets infused with mealworms in that feeder but chooses the sunflower hearts in the mesh feeder. The two feeders are only inches apart so it's not as if one is more difficult to access from the nearest branches.
Pics taken in dreadfully dull conditions through the kitchen window so not up to much!
Now the big question is - is this the same individual as this one from autumn 2016???
At Base Camp but we've moved the feeders closer to the windows
Does anyone else have that do this rather than use an supposedly 'easier' type of feeder? Here's a pic my mate RL took a few years ago of one on an 'easy' feeder.

Where to next? We're rather hoping the nearby Purple Heron will be re-found so a twitch might well be on the cards. 

In the meantime let us know which wrong birds are dangling off your feeders in your outback.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Twitching up north - Again!

The Safari was picked up by CR on dreary wet November morning last Tuesday and off we set north-bound on a twitch for a Yankee duck that had been resident on Pine Lake for a week or so. A convenient early port of call on the way to Leighton Moss. The drive up was hampered by a convoy of tractors going miles, long gone are the days when tractors only went between a few fields and the farmyard. But the slow journey did work a little in our favour as the heavy rain had just about stopped when we pulled up at the car park by the leisure complex's watersport centre.
Now where was the duck? We'd seen several pics of it against a backdrop of reeds and fairly close up too. But there were reeds along the far bank a long way away and there were flotillas of Tufted Ducks and Pochards there too as well as scattered across the large lake in all directions. It was good to see a decent number of Pochards but when we say 'decent number' it's probably only a fraction of the proper 'decent numbers' that would have been seen here 20 or so years ago.
We changed our vantage point a few yards back to wards the park's entrance to get a better view into the little bay tucked round the corner to our left. It wasn't long before C called out he was pretty sure he'd just seen and photographed the Ring Necked Duck in a small flock of Tufted Ducks, Pochard, Scaup and a Black Headed Gull. The gull would become invaluable as a marker a little later on.
Moving over to where he was stood a quick scan with the bins revealed the tell tale wide pale band just up from the black tip of the bill on one of the ducks - there it was, now to try to get a better view.
We walked round the back of the watersport centre and found ourselves between some chalets at the back of a little beach. From here we got some better views of the 1st winter male Ring Necked Duck.
It and its friends were continually diving and popping up here there and everywhere so the easiest way to keep a tab on it was to call out its position in relation to the only bird present that wasn't diving - the gull!
Ring Necked Duck (centre) PYLC #188
Always a little distant and the light was totally tosh we snuck closer to the water's edge during its dives using the shrubbery as cover taking care not to disturb any birds still on the surface.

That's the best we could manage before it was time to nip over the crag to Leighton Moss - will have to go back on a sunnier morning - now wouldn't that be a hardship!
So down to the saltmarsh we went. After a couple of visits when it has been a little quiet down there this morning it was busy. The Allen Hide was quickly abandoned there being little on offer but down at the Eric Morecambe Hide there was plenty of action. On our last few visits the substantial Black Tailed Godwit flock has been very distant but today they were much closer and a little agitated with them rising their heads in a state of alert and some of them readily taking flight and dropping back down again.
The reason for this unease soon became apparent when a young male Peregrine circled overhead and came whooshing down through the flock
It tried several passes but failed to connect with any hapless godwit.
Eventually, and probably knackered, it gave up and plonked itself down on a nearby fence-post whereupon the godwit flock soon relaxed and settled down to the important job of chilling out and saving energy. This gave us a good opportunity to have a rummage through them noting that some still had remnants of their rusty breeding plumage and one was sporting more bling than Wifey. Probably a regular visitor and often reported but we'll pass on the details and let you know its history when we get a reply from the ringing scheme.
 In among the Black Tailed Godwits were a handful each of Knot and Dunlin.
Three species of wader in one pic
Once the panic of the Peregrine had well and truly subsided some of the godwits started to mooch about feeding and one or two came close enough to point the camera at.
The Redshank had also settled down, recently a Spotted Redshank had been reported but we failed to locate it, if indeed it was still about. One of the Knot had a lovely pink suffusion on its chest, akin to the peachy wash a Curlew Sandpiper but would have been even more intense. Unfortunately by the time we'd noticed it it had settled down facing the wrong way and simply refused to cooperate!
It does have a rich pinky chest - honest
It wasn't only that bird that wasn't cooperating - we couldn't get a 'four species of waders in one shot' as the Redshanks seemed to refuse to mix in with the Black Tailed Godwit flock. 
All of a oneness there was panic again as the godwits rose en masse. This time it wasn't the Peregrine causing the grief, that was still on sat on its fence-post, but a squadron of three Marsh Harriers coming across the marsh a hundred feet or so up. Strangely the Redshanks were totally nonplussed and just carried on feeding or chilling, you'd think they were more on the size range of prey items a Marsh Harrier might prefer rather than the more frightened but larger Black Tailed Godwits
Which brings us on to a bit of a mystery...we've seen Marsh Harriers catching Moorhen and Coot chicks, ducklings and young Black Headed Gulls to take back to their own nestlings and  we're sure you have too. We've seen them taking carrion, dead swans and geese etc out on the marshes but when we think about it we've don't think we've seen one actually catch something for themselves...has anyone else and if so what. We hazard a guess it's because of their habitat; they drop on something like a Moorhen and eat it unseen in the deep cover of the reedbed when there is no need to carry it back to their own nest.
Unphased Redshank
Two unphased Redshanks
There was also a selection of ducks on the pool. One in particular caught our eye sleeping behind an one of the small islands. After the Peregrine had been through and shuffled them all around it was easy to relocate being so distinctive.
Initially it was reported as a Blue Winged Teal but later that afternoon that had been changed to a hybrid of some description. We can see why someone might initially think it was a Blue Winged Teal with a facial crescent like that.
Word on the street now is that it's a Shoveler x Cinnamon Teal hybrid and is from a well known duck pond across the bay. But we have a question, OK this bizarre mix is readily available from breeders of dodgy ducks so they can obviously hybridise easily and that may have happened over on the duck pond particularly if there aren't many Cinnamon Teals over there for other randy Cinnamon Teals to choose from,  but, and it it is a rather big appeared a couple of days before the presumed properly wild and fully American Ring Necked Duck and only a couple of miles separate them and it's not like we've been short of some properly wild westerly weather systems this autumn. The question is does this odd pairing occur in the wild over the other side of the Atlantic (and is there anything else in the mix like a Blue Winged Teal, it being a second generation hybrid) and could it possibly be from the Americas - unlikely but never know...
Whatever its parentage and even grand-parentage is it's a bonny beast.
It wasn't the only dodgy duck on the pool either, lending far more credence to the duck pond theory (hypothesis) than the genuinely flew over the Atlantic theory.
Tigeon or possibly Malleon??? Take your pick
Other birds included a very brief visit from a very distant Kingfisher and this Little Egret that fished as close to the hide as it possible to get for several minutes.
A most enjoyable stint at the saltmarsh but time to move on and have a look at the freshwater part of the reserve. We aimed straight for the Grisedale hide hoping for but not connecting with any Bearded Tits on the way, nor were there many birds around the two impromptu feeding areas along the track.
In contrast to the saltmarsh and our recent visits to this hide it was quiet even though the water level had dropped substantially since last week leaving much more muddy margins available, incredibly we could only find one Snipe
Teal are always good value and although most were asleep odd brighter spells had them waking up moving round and even encouraging them to do some quick displaying.  
The well marked male Marsh Harrier was sat on a dry patch of ground in the distance doing nothing much in particular.  We searched for the Garganeys to no avail and hoped a Red Deer might put in appearance but when staff member JC came in to the hide he told us the rut had now ended and the deer were much harder to come across, many having moved off out of the reedbed and into the neighbouring woods. 
Butties and pies were chomped as nothing much happened outside the window so once replete we moved on for a quick look from Tim Jackson Hide, bad light and few birds had us moving swiftly on. Just outside the hide a rather tame Dunnock mugged us for some seed. Normally they're pretty shy but not here where there's an almost infinite supply of free hand-outs if you can overcome your fear of the two-legged monsters
Only a foot from our toes...and it came even closer than that!
Annoyingly from the path we heard a Marsh Harrier calling persistently but the tall reeds prevented us getting a good view of it, if only they would come that close when we're on the 'new' boardwalk with its elevated position giving a view over the tops of the reeds. 
We stopped at the impromptu feeding station where C put down some some food he'd brought with him. Immediately birds appeared as if from nowhere. Mostly they were too quick for us, grabbing a seed and darting away. The dreadfully low light wasn't helping the auto-focus either. The only 'keeper' we got was this cute Long Tailed Tit armed and dangerous with a sunflower seed.
With the supposedly tame Water Rail being a no-show for us (AGAIN) we moved on after a few minutes. A very brief look from Lilian's Hide gave us more Gadwall than you could shake a stick at and a lot of Shovelers. We picked out a couple of female Goldeneyes but didn't try too hard to find the Scaup, after all we'd been watching some fine full adult males and well marked females at Pine Lake only a couple of hours earlier.
No luck with any Marsh Harriers from the boardwalk and no Stonechats in the field today either. Arriving at the Causeway hide we saw that good friends S & JB were already in there and gave us the low down on what was about. Mostly more Marsh Harriers and a distinct lack of Otters they said.
Once again we had three Marsh Harriers making at least five and possibly as many as seven for the day, not bad considering it wasn't that long ago that they were only summer visitors here.
When we were at this hide with the gang last week we picked up an owl pellet from just outside the door. Dissecting it back at Base Camp we found two vole skulls and a shrew skull suggesting it was probably from a Barn Owl. SB confirmed that was the most likely species as one had been seen in the vicinity in recent days.
After a good chat/reminiscence and catch up of the latest birding gossip from Leighton Moss we decided to spend the last of the light at the birdy bench just through the gate at the end of the causeway and it looked like the sun might just come out for a few minutes. C secreted seed in nooks and crannies close to the bench and we only had to wait seconds before all the usual suspects descended on it.  
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Marsh Tit
The threatened sunshine didn't materialise and the light was ISO Awful (18000+) but one of the  Marsh Tits kindly came and sat up higher in the bushes behind us in much better lit conditions.
And then a Robin appeared and bullied everything else out of the way, it was his/her seed now and no-one as getting a look in so with the light gone we were soon on the road back to Base Camp too.
Yet another superb day out on safari with CR and many thanks to him for all the driving today.

Where to next? Not sure yet - let's see what the weather holds, there's supposed to be a bit of serious cold snap coming our way

In the meantime let us know who's wearing all the bling in your outback